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Karl Popper’s Science Falsifiable Claims Vs Thomas Kuhn

 Karl Popper’s Science Falsifiable Claims Vs Thomas Kuhn

 

Introduction

After the examination of Einstein’s theory of gravitation in 1919, Karl Raimund Popper grew concerned about the veracity of the prevalent theories and claims and as a result, he asked two fundamental questions that became the basis of his falsification theory. The two questions were: (1) “When should a theory be ranked as scientific?” or (2) “Is there a criterion for the scientific character or status of a theory?” After exploring the prominent theories propagated by Freud, Marx and Adler, Popper learnt that they had explained all the events within their fields and all incidences and episodes in their respective fields were based on verification. He discovered that everything that had happened in the universe was always confirmed and this provided the verification of theories. For instance, analysts that evaluated Freud’s works claimed that their theories were regularly backed within clinical observations.

After many other studies and examination of claims and theories, Popper made numerous claims that were summarized to create the falsification theory which was discussed in Popper (2002). The claims included: It is possible for one to get verifications for nearly all theories, and as a result any theory that cannot be questioned by conceivable event is not scientific, hence every authentic test for a theory is an attempt at falsification, and any attempt to falsify a theory must be done using the correct method (Popper, 2002). Popper’s observations were different from Kuhn’s argument which perceived knowledge as a part of the social fabric and not as an accumulation of accepted fact, and it undergoes a revolution as opposed to an evolution process.

Demarcation of Knowledge

Popper’s idea that science should be divorced from non-scientific issues and theories was said to be a demarcation and as Searle (1995) argues, it offers a new dimension to the scientific inquiry process. It also directly contradcted from the argument of Thomas Kuhn regarding science, which postulated that science and social factors are inseparable factors because social factors affect and fuel science. Kuhn argued that science is an ongoing development of knowledge and it is not possible to have a pure form of science (Kuhn 1970). There are of course no distinct lines which can determine who between the two philosophers was right or wrong. Nevertheless, both of them seem to have been right with regards to certain important aspects and this has led to a huge debate in the modern day academia.

Besides his demarcation theory, Popper argued that science could only be defined by using the falsifiable theories and there was no other means to completely prove a scientific theory as wholly valid hence scientists can only depend on falsifiable theory to make scientific inquiries. For instance, in his works as highlighted within Smith, Booth and Zalewski (1996) book, Popper recommended that scientists ought to establish a theory and then attempt to falsify it. It is only when the theory cannot be falsified that its developers can consider it to be scientific.

This was contrary to the traditional method where scientists would come up with scientific theories and then attempt to prove them as valid and Smith, Booth and Zalewski (1996, p. 128-129) assert that it is necessary for scholars to be able to seek the best avenues for searching for scientific knowledge. By arguing for falsifiability, Popper was not supporting the development of faulty theories, but rather arguing there should be a means through which a theory can be proven to be false, if it is indeed false. In other words, Popper was arguing that scientists ought not be allowed to develop theories, which cannot be proven wrong by human means, as this would result in development of dogmatic scientific theories.

Popper’s argument is very powerful and thus must be comprehended from an utterly different perspective. By supporting the falsifiability of scientific theories, Popper was not suggesting that falsifiability is superior to proof-ability, instead, he was trying to point to the fact that most, if not all scientific theories, cannot be absolutely proven. Popper was also trying to simultaneously show that only dogmatic beliefs are not falsifiable and hence any scientific theory that could not be falsified is a dogma. As a matter of fact, Popper categorized theories in accordance with their degree of falsification and even posited that, “the more falsifiable a theory is the better it is because if it is highly falsifiable it must make precise predictions about a large range of phenomena” (Kuipers, 2007 p. 361).

His theory is also in line with one of the most essential understandings of scientific theory, which is the fact that theories only attempt to explain facts, but do not have an impact on facts, regardless of whether they are false or true (Winch 1958). Popper’s argument addressed the fact that as many theories as possible can be made up concerning a specific scientific phenomena but that should not affect the scientific phenomena. Besides, Popper seems to have proper understanding of the fact that though certain theories can be falsified in principle they cannot in practice.

For example, one can argue that the laws of physics operate in a similar manner irrespective of space and time. The problem with this type of argument is the fact that despite the number of observations made, there is still never a point where such claim can be fully claimed to be true. This is because if after a lot of time and after observing millions of spaces-times in the universe, or other universes, which may still remain undiscovered, only a single instance would be necessary to disprove this.

Popper’s argument is important not because of the fact that it postulates that theories should be falsifiable, but because of the nature of scientific theories that makes them testable. The issue Popper had concerning the falsifiability of theories was the fact that they somehow advocated for dogmatism. Popper definitely did not perceive that pseudoscience had a place in the modern academic world and as a matter of fact he hated anything that dealt with pseudoscientific.

He argued that lack of falsifiability and fundamentally the lack of testability of a scientific theory was not suitable for science because it would result in scientists forcing theories to be accepted, hence leading to pseudoscience. Such an attitude towards science and especially the scientific process is what differentiated Popper from other scientific philosophers like Kuhn who found no problem in mixing social science with the pure sciences.

Whether Popper was right or wrong, it is very apparent that his philosophy concerning science is an element that can be utilized to assist in improving the modern world and ensuring that scientific knowledge is advanced in a positive manner. Popper’s philosophy can be enforced as a yardstick to measure the effectiveness of scientific theories, particularly those that concern the scientific phenomena that are not easily verifiable. This can be particularly useful for example in the study of the universe, which continues to surprise the scientists with each new discovery. Even though the Popper’s philosophy towards science has received a lot of criticism from the academic world because it seems contradictory, it has also received a lot of support as it seems to be proven right each time an old science theory is proven wrong by a new invention or discovery.

It thus remains relevant and useful in the modern world where it can be utilized as a means of offering guidance to scientific inquiry and ensuring that scientists do not deviate from the purity of science in the pursuit to fulfill dogmatic needs and expectations. There are however many issues that must be considered so as to ensure that the philosophy advanced by Popper is not confusing to scientist and such factors include the following:

Falsifiable, not faulty, theories ought to result in sound scientific theories and inquiry

The main reason why many people have concerns about Popper’s philosophy towards science is because of the confusion it raises between falsifiable and faulty scientific theory. Popper was not advocating for faulty theories, but was only suggesting that scientific theories should not always be taken at face value hence the main issue here is to emphasize the fact that science theories evolve over time, but the phenomena they try to explain remain constant.

For instance, in the future, scientists may establish another theory that attempts to explain evolution, hence replacing the current theory that was developed by Darwin several centuries ago. Such a new theory however cannot change the existence of evolution. If a scientist were to invent a new theory concerning evolution based on new evidence, it would not be scientific for supporters of the Darwin theory to refuse to consider the new theory and persist in trying to uphold the current theory of evolution.

Understanding the right demarcations of science versus social issue

The other issue that has affected the philosophy of Popper and attitude towards science is the fact that the concept of demarcating knowledge, as was suggested by him and should be utilized to divorce science from pseudoscience is always misconceived. This misconception probably happens because of lack of clear definition of science. While many people still believe that science only includes the technical disciplines such as physics and biology, a closer look at the definition of the term science reveals that science also refers to knowledge, irrespective of the particular fields it belongs to. Popper’s theory can therefore be understood from this perspective only.

Comparison with Kuhn’s philosophy

Berger (1967) asserts that scientific theory development has always been affected by the social aspects of knowledge. Thomas Kuhn, is of course one of the biggest critics of Popper’s scientific philosophy. Kuhn, unlike Popper believed that it is not possible to separate science from social issues. In fact, according to Kuhn, science is a conception, born and raised by the social environment and his philosophy is also evident in the modern academia and scientific inquiries, most of which have been inspired and fueled by social matters (Craib & Benton 2001).

Military technology is one such important field. In fact, most of the technologies available in the modern world are the result of military research and according to Jackson (2010) this is an indicator of how flexible knowledge is. Military research is driven by social matters that are politically charged (Marsh & Furlong 2002, pp. 17-18). The most inspiring of such technologies so far has been the Internet, and other communication technologies like the Global Positioning Systems (GPS), including the satellite systems etc. All these, especially the Internet, were inspired by political and military ambitions and this may be evidence that Kuhn was right in postulating that science cannot be divorced from the social setting (Hollis & Smith 1996).

The social setting, according to Kuhn offers a fecund breeding ground for the intellectual mind and, which, while it may not be viewed as scientific, augurs well with the dynamics of scientific inquiry (Delanty 1997). Popper would definitely disagree with this kind of approach and would rather advocate for a purer scientific mode of inquiry, which is purely science driven. Nevertheless, proponents of the philosophy of Kuhn can argue against Popper’s philosophy by citing that the scientific process of inquiry has always been derived from the less scientific preceding processes (Gordon 1991).

For example, modern medicine and chemistry knowledge is viewed to have been inspired by the ancient alchemy, which set the foundation for modern scientists to study and comprehend chemistry and its connection to human health. This applies to every other scientific discipline including astronomy, which in a way can be viewed as having emerged from astrology. The best example of how impure scientific inquiries as proposed by Kuhn, inspired the modern science is the evolution theory by Darwin (Weber 1994, p. 545). Yet, Popper’s philosophy seems to disregard this and makes the assumption that the environment, in which scientific inquiry is made, is perfect with all the facts well comprehended. This lack of appreciation of the non-scientific aspects of the inquiry is perceived as weak spot of Popper’s philosophy.

Popper’s philology may, for example, be seen to lack appreciation of the way in manner the modern scientific knowledge was developed. Having been a naturalist for the most part of his life, Darwin had never really been able to understand why evolution occurred and even though he had always known hat evolution process happened and that organisms always seemed to change with time, he had never been able to come up with a scientific theory explaining this occurrence. In fact, Darwin was not the only one person who knew about evolution because philosophers, as early as three thousand years before Darwin, had taken note of this basic and deliberate transformation in organisms.

This can be seen to be in support of Kuhn’s philosophy because Darwin’s scientific epiphany was to emanate from an unaccepted source, a book written by a church priest, who had attempted to explain the natural calamities including disease epidemics, famines and man made disasters such as war, as a process of controlling the population. It was from this less scientific theory, that Darwin developed one of the most important scientific theories in modern science.

The Darwinian situation concerning his theory of evolution being developed from an earlier less scientific theory can be used to either support or derail both the scientific philosophies developed by Popper and Kuhn. In terms of Popper’s philosophy, this phenomenon can be viewed as supportive because of the fact that an older theory had been falsified, and replaced with another one. On the other hand, it can be used to derail this philosophy due to the fact that the original theory, which was not so much of a scientific theory was falsified.

This however can be used in support of Kuhn’s philosophy since it shows that the social environment can and does provide a breeding foundation, that can inspire as well as back a scientific inquiry. The original theory which was developed by an English Priest, Albert Malthus, was founded in an attempt to give a reason as to why God does not prevent such bad things as earthquakes, disease epidemics etc. from taking place. Malthus must have felt the pressure to offer an explanation to his followers on the reason why a good God failed to prevent the calamities and therefore came up with a theory that was more dogmatic and less scientific. On this premise solely, it is apparent his theory, even though it was less of scientific theory and leaned more towards a religious dogma, birthed the best scientific theory. This phenomenon challenges Popper’s philosophy.

Other important scientific theories including the Big Bang Theory, which is the ultimate theory that attempts to explain the formation of the universe, can also be viewed as having the same sort of origins. In this respect, it would seem that divorcing the scientific world from the social world, as suggested by Popper, would do more harm than good to science. When assessing both Kuhn and Popper’s philosophies in the modern world, however, reveals that these theories are not opposing forces but rather two sides of one coin (Nagel 1994, p. 571). Both scholars, Kuhn and Popper, were trying to address the same issue only from a different viewpoint, and as such important and modern scientists need to be able to reconcile these two philosophies so as to obtain the best of both.

Popper was a supporter for purism in scientific inquiry, and this is vital in modern science as a means of coming up with the best and refined scientific knowledge. Yet, it is necessary to comprehend that even as purism is desired, the modern world is yet to reach a point where the social world can be ignored absolutely. Most of the scientific knowledge is still upheld in the social arena and it is necessary to prevent losing it (Chalmers 1976). However, Popper’s school of thought, falsifiability is an indicator of ongoing advancement and therefore, when more theories can be proved to be false, better theories can be established.

This is an aspect that is very important in any scientific inquiry. Einstein said that knowledge may be seen to be concealed like a puzzle and the process of revealing it requires an individual, or groups of individuals, to have all the permutations of such knowledge. This can only happen in cases where the scientists are aware of how to evaluate their own theories and to come up with better ones. On the other hand the Kuhn school of thought is also vital because it reveals that science is a property of the society in its entirety and should not be demarcated or left only to scientists.

 

Conclusion

Popper’s ideas are very important in modern scientific inquiry and the issues he was attempting to address cannot and ought not be ignored. Even though his philosophy on science may come off as extreme, it does address a crucial issue. A closer look at his arguments and philosophy show that Popper was advocating for a pure scientific method of inquiry, which would ultimately realize a professional system of doing things. Popper seems to have been arguing that every scientist is responsible for developing reliable mechanisms and systems of inquiry, which would be academically acceptable instead of trying to serve political or religious dogmatic beliefs.

It is also possible that Popper was bothered by the fact that the academic field was based on religion, whereby most of the universities in Europe have been established by churches and operate on the instruction and guidance of such churches. Despite the reason why Popper took his stance on the issues of scientific methods, there is an important element which can be learnt from his view regarding science and academia.

 

References

Berger, P & Luckmann, T 1967, The Social Construction of Reality, Allen Lane Publishers, London.

Booth, S & Zalewski, M 1996, International Theory: Positivism and Beyond, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 128-145.

Chalmers, A 1976, What Is This Thing Called Science? Univ. of Queensland Press, London.

Craib, I & Benton, T 2001, Philosophy of Social Science Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Delanty, G 1997, Social Science: Beyond Constructivism and Realism, Open University Press, Buckingham.

Gordon, S 1991, The History and Philosophy of Social Science, Routledge, London.

Hollis, M & Smith, S 1996, Explanation and Understanding in International Relations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Jackson, P 2010, The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations, Routledge, London.

Kuhn, T 1970, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Sects VI, VII and VIII.

Kuipers, T 2007, General Philosophy of Science: Focal Issues: Focal Issues, Elsevier, New York.

Mark, J 2003, Smith, Social Science in Question, Sage, London, chap 3-4.

Marsh, D & Furlong, P 2002, ‘A Skin not a Sweater: Ontology and Epistemology’ In Political Science’ in David Marsh and Gerry Stoker, Theory and Methods in Political Science, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 17-41.

Nagel, E 1994 ‘The Value-Oriented Bias of Social Inquiry’, In Michael Martin and Lee C. McIntyre, eds., Readings in the Philosophy of Social Science, London, MIT Press, pp. 571-584.

Popper, K 1989, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Routledge, London.

Popper, K 2002, Conjectures and Refutations, Routledge, London.

Searle, J 1995, The Construction of Social Reality, Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Weber, M 1994, ‘Objectivity’ in Social Science and Social Policy’, in Michael Martin and Lee C. McIntyre, eds., Readings in the Philosophy of Social Science, London, MIT Press, pp. 535-545.

Winch, P 1958, The Idea of a Social Science, Robert Kennedy Publishing, New York.

 

 

 

 

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